You still have time to register to vote in this upcoming, incredibly important election on Thursday 8th June 2017; registration closes on 22nd May 2017. It has never been more important than in this election yet myriad social media posts, articles, listicles, soundbites and other items have appeared which may confuse more than inform.
Don’t forget, though, local council elections on 4th May 2017 as well – many of you have two chances within five weeks to guide this country the way you want it to go!
I would ask you to bear in mind the following when picking your party:
- You are voting for a party, not a person. However much you may actually like your MP, is the party they represent the best for the country as a whole? Read the manifestos if you can, links to the political party websites are below.
- This is not a one issue election, they never are. The method by which the UK will Brexit is just one of many policies under discussion. Make an informed choice, not a knee-jerk reactionary fearful one which the media and many politician seem to be attempting to force us all to do.
- Vote for what will be best for the country, not simply for yourself. It is too easy to vote simply to better your own position, but how can that be right if it means others will suffer? Under the governments of the last 20, even 30, years the position of those without money, without accessibility, without equality, has worsened. Picking the party that will potentially (not actually) increase the money in your pocket and for no other reason is selfish and in my view, immoral.
- Politicians argue with each other, that’s a very large part of their job. Try to analyse what they are saying. Is it backed up by facts from independent sources, or if they are making promises, how are they intending to carry them out? What is the costing for each policy? Where is the money coming from?
Look at the record of the party; what have they enacted previously? What was the result of such enactment? Have they kept their promises? Do you trust the party to carry out their pledges, based on past behaviour? Check out the voting record of your MP and any other you wish to check out, by clicking here.
A lot of people may intend not to vote and there are so many reasons for this. More people didn’t vote in the last election in 2015 than actually voted for the winning party. Think how those votes could have changed things! You might think not voting indicates your disaffection with the system and lack of belief in it, but no-one will know that and the country is stuck with the result regardless.
I am voting Labour in this election; I live in a borough where it is a safe seat and I believe, upon reading all the manifestos and having followed my own suggestions, that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is the best chance for a brighter future for the majority of us, in particular the disenfranchised, discriminated against and downtrodden members of society.
What I am sure of is that another term of a Conservative government will lead to more deaths, more pain, more hate and more divisiveness, and I am terrified that it will mean no more NHS.
If recent elections have shown us anything it is that if you believe your vote will have no effect so you don’t bother, then the worst candidate may actually be elected. Yes, United States of America, I am looking at you. You may not be interested in politics, but it is interested in you. Don’t let it be a one-way relationship. Vote, and don’t let yourself be silenced.
Be informed and be the change we all need everyone to be.
Other sources of help in this election (also do a web search for articles and information):
“UK Trans” – UK Transgender advice/campaigning site.
“Operation Black Vote” – political campaigning site for BAME people.
“Stonewall” – LGBTQPIA advice and campaign group.
“Disability Rights UK” – Disabled persons’ advice and campaigning group.
In addition, advice for disability access when voting can be located by clicking here.
Party Websites/Manifestos (copy/cut and paste, or click the link):
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland https://allianceparty.org/)
Conservative Party (Tories https://www.conservatives.com/)
Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland http://www.mydup.com/)
Green Party (England and Wales https://www.greenparty.org.uk/)
Labour Party (http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/home/)
Liberal Democrat Party (http://www.libdems.org.uk/)
Plaid Cymru (Wales http://www2.plaid.cymru/)
Scottish Green Party (https://greens.scot/)
Scottish National Party (https://www.snp.org/)
Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland http://www.sinnfein.ie/)
Social Democrat & Labour Party (Northern Ireland http://www.sdlp.ie/)
UK Independence Party (UKIP http://www.ukip.org/)
Ulster Unionist Party (Northern Ireland http://www.uup.org/)
I have just about recovered from the results of the UK General Election in 2015 (no, I haven’t) but am very nervous for the upcoming local elections on Thursday 4th May (ruining Star Wars Day, thanks!). In the general election the Conservative party ended up with a majority having received 36.7% of the votes cast in total, which represents 24% of those who are actually registered to vote. 12% more people chose not to vote at all than chose to vote for the party that now controls the United Kingdom (even with Northern Ireland and Scotland having devolved, funding and much policy still derives from the London-based Parliament). The current make-up of the House of Commons can be found by clicking here.
It rapidly became clear that the number of seats won did not reflect the amount of votes cast for each party. That is how our First-Past-The-Post voting with its unevenly-populated electoral borough for each MP system works. In other words, and as I have written before, it doesn’t. Moreover, this situation has been steadily worsening for decades. There has not been a government formed by a party who have achieved a clear majority vote since 1931. To put that into more perspective that is only 3 years after there were finally equal voting rights for men and women in the United Kingdom.
Six years ago there was a referendum to decide if we would stick with FPTP or move to an Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which preferred candidates are ranked according to preference, and votes are counted until one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast. This is the system used by many of the political parties to elect their leadership – UKIP, Labour, Lib Dem, Green Party, and the Conservatives, who use a series of FPTP votes which seems to me to be AV in a more costly format. I could not find the relevant information for Plaid Cymru, SNP, Democratic Unionists or Ulster Unionists without joining, but please do research for yourselves!
The No vote won this simple Yes/No choice, but the reasons varied from those who did not understand AV to those who wished to retain FPTP to those who believed a vote for AV would mean never getting Proportional Representation. Only 41% of registered voters exercised their right to choose Yes or no on AV. I say it is time for a Yes/No vote on Proportional Representation.
Simply put, proportional representation would mean that each party receives a percentage of seats in parliament equal to the percentage of votes cast by the electorate for that party. So if a party got 20% of the vote, they would receive 20% of the seats. If this system were in place now, then UKIP would have 99 MPs and the Green Party would have 37 MPs, instead of the one apiece they have.
Proportional Representation needs careful thought. A significant factor is that MPs would be selected by parties for seats in the Houses of Parliament meaning they would not be representative of the local areas any more. Constituencies would not be required, and this needs to be addressed if people are going to feel they are represented and they have somewhere to take grievances or issues. There must be clear guidance on the issues and delineation as to local/national decisions must be put in place before PR is enacted.
Local councils and Mayors would need to be elected separately as they are now, but with specific remit to represent their constituents to Parliament. For example, if there were objections to a bypass being built through a village to circumvent a town, then the local government would be able to represent its people in any objections there may be, and they would have the devolved powers to do so. Parliament published a summary of proposals for devolution to local government in England on 20th May 2015, and this can be accessed here.
It is very important that local government will be able to hold central government accountable for its actions; each must be the other’s arbiter. This is also why we must retain our rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, so that citizens have a place of appeal beyond that of local and central government.
The move to proportional representation is not one to be taken lightly. It will mean that parties you do not agree with will gain seats, as well as those you do. However, if we are to have a fairer electoral system we must accept that those we disagree with have an equal right to be heard. Who knows what the results of a PR election may be though? Tactical and protest voting will no longer be necessary as there will be candidates across the country for whom you may vote; each person will have the same parties to vote for. It must be a system in which the smallest marginal party can stand next to the largest national party. Specific local issues will be dealt with under specific local government.
This will be a massive undertaking and the UK government is scheduled to debate the introduction after a recent petition on the government website reached over 103,000 signatures before closing at midnight on Thursday 6th April 2017.
Political and constitutional reform demands nothing less than intimate, forensic-level research and implementation. However difficult and complicated the shift to Proportional Representation may be, it cannot be less fair than the system under which we currently operate. Put simply, Proportional Representation needs to happen.
I recently posted a meme of a well-known male actor on Facebook, which had him removing his jacket, shirt and tie (although leaving a white vest on so he was well-covered). This meme had originally been posted with a header simply stating “ladies, you’re welcome”. I re-posted with “persons of all persuasions, you’re welcome!” to make this less heteronormative (i.e. the default state in our society in which heterosexual attractions are the ones seen as appropriate and normal).
I was called out on the posting by a friend who stated “Sorry, but you’d all be going mental if a bloke put the same thing up with a woman in it”. I’ve tried to find a similar meme featuring a woman owning her sexuality and stripping down to a vest but couldn’t find one. My friend makes a good point though; I had posted this publicly because of the redressing of the heteronormativity but as it was public, it was open to all interpretations by people who are not versed in gender politics and the differences between how men and women are perceived sexually. There is a difference in posting a man and posting a woman enacting the same activity such as inciting sexual attraction.
I did not define the context in which I was posting and my friend was right to call me out on it.
There is a fundamental difference in how men and women are treated in expressing their sexualities. Posting like-for-like memes differing only in gender are not the same.
In our society men are seen as people with sexual subjectivity, as active participants in their own sex lives. Women are seen as sexual objects, passive receptors of sexual activity. It is from this that rape culture is derived, and the double-standards still so prevalent in our society; the slut/stud dichotomy. This is equally applicable to cisgender or transgender people but due to the transphobia transgender people are subjected to, such standards may be more violently applied. Transgender women in particular are more likely to be on the receiving end of violence than any other gender identity, often when a partner or family member ‘realises’ or is told they are transgender*.
When a meme such as the one I refer to above is posted, it is presumed that if it features a male body then the man in it is empowered and sexually active, and it is for him to act on sexual expressions which may be inspired by this.
When a meme features a female body then (apart from more clothes being removed thus affecting the true comparative nature of the memes) it is presumed that it is for the male gaze and the woman is an object in the sexuality inspired by the meme.
The famous diet coke advert theme in which a male strips off and women line up to watch for a ‘diet coke break’ but that is all they do, and if the male notices there is an arch smile, the inference that he could be sexually active with any one of the women watching and he knows it. There is no sense of entitlement to sexual activity from the women, there is from the man. That is the fundamental difference in a nutshell.
More simply put, the comparison made by my friend is not an equivalent one because society does not treat the genders as equal.
I am a Sexuality (known as Sex in the wider debating community) Positive identifying person , I do not believe in suppressing sexual identity or activity, as long as enthusiastic, informed, updated consent is present. I do not believe in censorship. What I do believe in, whole-heartedly, is equality of sexual expression and gender identity.
People attracted to men expressing their sexuality whole-heartedly and without repression is joyous, and that is what the meme of Tom Hardy (for ‘twas him removing said jacket, shirt and tie) was about for me, so in response to my friend – yes, I should have put the post in context and/or not made it public in order to make that clear. However, an ‘equal’ meme of a woman removing clothing would not be comparable for the reasons stated.
The sexual gaze is gendered. Society is unequal. This is evident in television programmes, media representations of gender (for example, this headline on the meeting of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon in 2015’s Newspaper of the Year as voted by the London Press Club, the fourth win in 11 years, and which paper remains the most popular online), in classic art (see examples, below, both beautiful works of art), in the constant scrutiny of women as passive objects, men as active subjects; I could go on but I think you get where I’m going with this!
This isn’t a new thing; it’s been ingrained for centuries and continues to be so through mainstream attitudes surrounding us and we are all influenced by such inequalities. If you aren’t sure how it is passed on, and you have teenage friends/children of friends who post memes on facebook, observe for a while what they post especially differentiated by gender. It will open your eyes, but be warned, once see it can never be unseen!
One way to fight inequality is to celebrate heterosexual women, gay men, and bisexual/pansexual people of all genders having sexual agency, and that is what the meme which inspired the post should be about, for me (thus my original amendment to the reason it was posted in the first place). Gay women have the female body but it tends towards depictions idealised with the male gaze in mind. The ‘perfect’ female body (which is cisgender, usually white, tall, slim and passive) is one intended for male consumption. You cannot compare images of different genders in similar style, the basis of comparison is not one of equality.
Now when I post memes to inspire sexual agency in those who do not have it under patriarchy, I can post this blog!
NB: all references to men and women are inclusive of cisgender and transgender identifying-people.
Wales is responsible for many things; dragons, leeks, rain and Torchwood to name but four. Now another auspicious event is added to that number, for at Hafan y Môr Holiday Park, Pwllheli, North Wales, I popped my cos-playing cherry and created not one, but TWO costumes to be worn over the weekend (okay, it’s Thursday to Sunday, but that’s close enough).
As you can see, they are both really simple, and in fact the Willow costume is only the jumper as I could neither afford nor find the rest of it. However, I did make that jumper – no I didn’t knit it, I bought it and sourced the applique/patches/daisies (thanks Emma for saving the costume when I was notified that it would take TWO MONTHS to ship my original daisy order), sewed them on with my fair little hands, and I also made the FBI badge inserting my own headshot in place of The Divine™ Ms Gillian Anderson.
Willow and Scully, two iconic redheads whom I adore with a passion verging on unnecessary; who else was I going to be?
Well, two seconds of wandering around the site (which was huge and had many, many activities and items on which to squander my groats) I realised that I am a hopeless, bumbling, pathetic amateur meandering in awestruck wonder through the realms of Cosplay Royalty. What was created and worn by my fellow attendees was incredible!
And yet, I did not feel jealous or inadequate…
Seriously, have a look at some of these:
L-R: (1) Lucien, librarian to Lord Morpheus (2) Kaecillius, foe of Dr Strange (3) Double Willow!
L-R: (1) Cyberman & Dr No 12 (yes, I include the War Doctor) (2) a Dalek, (3) No idea but I like it.
The Group Costumes were awesome too. Cyberman, in case you hadn’t read the previous caption.
L-R: (1) Lady Sybil Vimes (2) No idea, which is embarrassing as that is my friend Philippa in the costume (3) Boba Fett
There were so very many more, all just as good.
But the best thing? Not at any time did I feel judged, or belittled, or unworthy, because my costume did not measure up. Instead, the only feeling was joy in sharing a love for all things geek, especially the women, because we are still very much under-represented in all aspects of geek culture, either sexed up for the gaze of the hetero-male viewer, or seen as an add-on, or not a ‘real geek’. It’s a thing, trust me. Or don’t, have a google, I would suggest you start with ‘Gamergate’ and move on from there…
Even the wonderful Big Bang Theory only goes so far in including women in the geekfest; the women do not want to go to Comic Con (really? WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM?!) and whilst I applaud the fabulous representation of women in STEM careers that BBT encourages, it is very frustrating that geek culture is still very much predominantly white, male and straight.
When I try to buy graphic novels, I am still hard-pressed to find a female-led or even female-participant product, and this was reflected at the SFW convention in the panel for comic artists. Authors are more likely to be female.
That is a criticism of geek culture as a whole, and certainly not of the SFW experience. It was inclusive and very supportive at all turns, even with the children wandering around during the day in all the cutest costumes – I especially loved the family groups in which it was clear the costumes were built around what their children loved (baby Ewok and mini-glittery Wonder Woman, I’m looking at you!).
So, I popped my Cosplay cherry and as I thought might happen, I now want more.
What to do next, I ponder… Any other famous geek gingers I can imitate?
You may have seen the furore caused by Labour Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn’s use of the word ‘choose’ twice in a speech to the LGBTQIPA community recently. I have traced an interview with JC and the speech in full, in which the wording and context become clearer. The Labour Party press office spokesperson stated in a comment to Pink News that “Jeremy clearly doesn’t believe that being gay is a choice. He obviously meant people should be able to choose how they live their lives.”
That is not good enough for me and more saddening was the litany of excuses that people were coming out with to explain and minimise, to excuse and, in the end, to silence those people who were angered by the wording. The litany in and of itself shows the importance of the use of language and the meanings both implied and inferred. That’s what this blog is about.
Here are some quotes from just one debate on Facebook, as an example and without use of names to protect the guilty (all sic):
“Bollux..this is just another way of turning people against him…fuck sake , however he chose to word it is his way..people are sometimes too bloody sensitive to speaking PC language”
“ …and it is a choice.. we are born and make choices…whether it be sexuality, diet, thoughts, behaviour ,musical taste…”
“Jezza is coming from the place he feels passionate about. He’s not a bloody God, he’s human and if he worded something ‘slightly’ different from how other people would then so be it. Stop nitpicking at everything … His intentions are in the correct place. Grow the fuck up people. Peace!”
“Being attracted to men or women is a choice…spirit/emotion of a person is what your own spirit connects with.”
“We should all be mindful of not becoming too petty over an unfortunate choice of words / deliverance .. and stay strong ,supportive of his overall intention surely?”
“A shitty ‘mistake’ but we need to keep striving for the ‘bigger picture’ and not getting so overly sensitive to and distracted by pettiness.”
When those making such comments are questioned about their words, responses included:
“I respectfully disagree [to someone stating Jeremy Corbyn’s use of the words was casually homophobic terminology]. And for the record im absolutely not homophobic.”
“I hear you, yes, however maybe focus on healing your own strength and internal peace instead of looking for someone to blame … 💖 That’s how it comes across sometimes.”
“I’ve just had attacks in my direction for expressing something I think to be fine. If that has been misunderstood then I can’t help that, I haven’t meant to offend . This is why fb fucks me off.. keyboard warriors . #misunderstood”
“I have no problem at all with any of it. seems as though you enjoy the whole victim vibe and are ‘assuming’ I mean something I don’t. even now.”
“What I see here is you enjoy the platform of attention and arguing. And right here mocking what I’m trying to explain, like I’ve stated in other topics with other people, I guess I’m a bit crap at explaining myself in a way that is understood.”
“Your attitude is like that of a bully, and I know youre not that. That’s how it’s coming across ..you know who I am so I ask that you don’t label me as being and meaning something that’s not true.”
“And to add to your sentence about when you told me you were ‘gay’ , so what? I don’t care who or what you are..your choice.” (my bold)
“Ahhhhhh privilege….that’s the next argument then ? Us and them Etc… Well I disagree….and maybe you could wind your neck in a little too…. I’ve had plenty of stuff I’ve had to stand for that I’ve been bullied/persecuted for over time…..or are you saying your situation is more important than mine ?”
Read through the above quotes carefully. Look at the wording, comprehend the implications, and the inferences you may be making. Note how any challenge to the inferences is met with turning around on the person challenging, without stopping to take a moment to try to reflect on what the people challenging who are of the identity about which the wording ‘choose’ has a direct oppressive effect. It’s an insular, ego-centred form of thinking which is not partisan in politics or ideology. All of us, including me, have this propensity. For me, it lacks empathy which is what I consider the fundamental condition of us as humanes (‘e’ deliberate).
Note the use of words such as ‘petty’, ‘mistake’, ‘unfortunate’, ‘PC language’, ‘too bloody sensitive’, wind your neck in’, ‘looking for someone to blame’, and my favourite, ‘grow the fuck up, people’. This comes from people who define and present themselves as left-wing, open-minded, caring people who don’t hold any form of bigotry within themselves.
Don’t make excuses for this or any other type of benign bigotry, because that is an oxymoron. No bigotry is benign. Don’t do it for even the most liberally and/or left-minded person. Don’t do it especially for them; it’s a creeping toxic subconscious bigotry which begets and legitimises the more extreme actions and words). Don’t make assumptions about what a person ‘might’ have meant, you don’t know that context and you can equally assume the worst with just as much validity. Don’t excuse me or anyone else, please.
Don’t even say JC meant it was about the choice to live openly as an LGBTQIPA identifying person. The use of choose or choice in the language used is still problematic because it is still about stating one has to choose to live one’s life in honesty and openness with oneself and those around you, and all the crap that comes with it through prejudice. This doesn’t happen if you choose to live true to yourself if you are straight.
It is privilege not to recognise the impact of the words. They are harmful.
Living true to one’s sexuality should NEVER be a choice or have to be expressed as one. Telling anyone that their truth to live who they are is in any way a choice takes away the responsibility of anyone privileged not to be in those discriminated against groups to examine their own attitudes and understand what they are saying, believing and the impact it has on other’s lives. I am shocked that this is not being understood. That shock too, is my privilege.
We all have some form of privilege. Don’t excuse actions or word because of that privilege. We may not be to blame for our privilege but we do have the responsibility to address it. Don’t excuse me from my responsibility, that just puts the responsibility on those who are discriminated against. You must not, you should not and you cannot.
Whether I am leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister, your friend, your family, your parent or your child, don’t excuse me, please.
My recent Facebook status read:
“For anyone on my friend’s list who thinks privatised healthcare is a good thing:
(a) Do you think a person with six pre-existing chronic conditions will find affordable insurance?;
(b) Do you think a person who is on two different forms of medication for the rest of their life will be able to find affordable insurance?;
(c) Do you think that a person with a pre-existing condition that will require chemo/radiotherapy/expensive cancer drugs at some point in the future but is unable to pinpoint when, will be able to find affordable insurance?
If you have answered no to any of those questions, are you still happy with privatised healthcare being introduced in this country as a result of this?
If you have said yes, you have just denied me healthcare, and probably killed me, so please delete me from your friends list. Thanks.
(The intent of this is to personalise the issue and to show how this will affect people in real life. This is why the problems with the NHS have me scared to the point of panic and avoidance of the issue).”
I am bloody terrified; having literal panic attacks at the thought of what is happening, has been happening, and will happen to the institution beloved by the majority* of people in this country, and what that will mean for me personally. It’s a painful irony, and not a funny one, that the decreases in mental health funding and the crisis in the NHS is exacerbating mental health conditions and triggering stress flare-ups in chronic pain conditions for so many.
This is not some fearful fantasy cooked up by the left in a bid to defame the government. After all, it is not just the current Conservative and previous coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat governments which have caused the crisis. Originally implemented in 1992 under the Conservative government of John Major, PFI was expanded across the board under the ‘new Labour’ government of Tony Blair to include a large injection of funds to the National Health Service. Repaying these loans which charged interest above the standard rate left many Trusts in dire straits and directly led to the Save Lewisham Hospital A&E & Children’s/Maternity services campaign, which took Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health since 2012, and won.
He has since seen to it that the law has been amended so this does not happen again.
The Telegraph newspaper wrote in July 2015 that “The bill for private finance initiative (PFI) hospital schemes will hit £2 billion for the first time this year – or £3,729 every 60 seconds.”**
That is profit for private healthcare companies coming out of the NHS budget, which loans charge interest and have led to severe shortages in NHS provision and swingeing cuts across the board.
A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, informed me of their personal experience:
“I’ve worked for a business delivering NHS services; … I was a Practice Manager. GP Partnerships have a primary interest in being doctors, doing what they do to help the masses. A business’ primary interest is… making money! So they have ghost patients (people who’ve moved abroad/away and have not re-registered with an alternative GP practice), they cut corners, they squeeze as much as they can from the staff, both clinical & administrative, they buy cheap equipment, have no interest in training staff to improve their skills, don’t follow “Good Practice Guidelines” when it comes to infection control (flooring & furniture that cannot be easily decontaminated), amongst other things because they don’t have to & because it’ll cut into their profits. I left because… IT FRIGHTENED ME – it would only be a matter of time, until something went drastically wrong. Apparently they got through 3 Practice Managers in a year, because none of us would lower our standards to suit “the business”… but it was an insight into what would be if we lost the NHS.”
This diagram shows the cost to the NHS simply for building new premises, as a result of PFI funding:
If the NHS is forced into showing a profit for shareholders through funding from private initiatives, it is no longer putting patients first. The fundamental principles upon which the NHS was founded by Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, on 5th July 1948, were***:
- that it meet the needs of everyone
- that it be free at the point of delivery
- that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay
These will no longer apply and indeed given the creeping privatisation already occurring, it could be said that they don’t apply already.
On Saturday 4th March 2017 there will be a National Demonstration starting at Tavistock Square, London at 12 noon in support of the NHS, organised by the People’s Assembly. Further, and if you read this in time, there is an initial NHS Day of Action on Saturday 14th January.
To keep up to date on all NHS campaigns, and for useful tips on how to keep the momentum of protest and organisation going, go to the Stop the STPS homepage.
If you can’t attend the demonstration (or even if you can), write to your MP (details of whom can be found at They Work For You, along with their voting record if you are interested), sign petitions constantly in circulation, talk about the NHS and what it means to you, and keep the pressure on.
We are being watched by millions across the world, aghast at what we are doing to the best service our country has ever introduced. The only people who do not feel shocked and empathise with our fears are those who will profit from privatisation, and those people are not the ones who so desperately need the NHS.
Don’t let anyone tell you the funding isn’t there. In 2016 the government agreed to spend over £200billion on renewing Trident, our nuclear weapons stock. An increase in taxes on the very rich, introduction of the Robin Hood Tax and closing up of tax loopholes exploited by individuals and businesses would more than meet the funding deficit.
You may not need the NHS much now, but we are an ageing and increasing population. You will need it eventually and maybe sooner than you think. Do all you can to make sure it is still there. SAVE THE NHS. You never know, the life you save could be your own.
I have been musing a lot on the definition and practice of ‘being a friend’; partly because I had to cancel attendance at two 40th birthday parties in the space of five days due to a chronic pain flare-up, and partly because I have at last count four friends (not known to each other, I move in many and varied groupings) who are currently going through extremely painful break-ups from abusive relationships and I have been thinking deeply about how best I can support them and their individual needs, and how to recognise if I should back away or am being overbearing.
Well, Merry Christmas to all, right?!* Life doesn’t stop because the festive season starts, and for many, including some of those I care very deeply for, Christmas is a reminder of how damaged, ‘imperfect’ (especially when compared to the many advertisements inculcating a normality that doesn’t exist below surface image), and unhappy their past and/or current experience may be.
I fear strongly that I am a ‘bad’ friend; I fear that my conditions will prevent me from being what I can be to those I love, and I know that is a part of my conditions to have this fear. I think it is common to have these fears, and that it may be possible, just a little, that I overthink things!
I try to show my care for my friends and maintain my awareness that we all see our lives through a filter; a prism concentrating light into what we ourselves can only perceive, separate and apart from even those stood next to us in life. I hang on to the truth that is I can only be responsible for that which I can control, which as I grow older is revealed to be less and less.
But still, I worry, and I am sure many of you do too. For many reasons including but not limited to personal preference, I am a ‘stay at home’ bod; content to be a couch potato surrounded by books, television and whatever hobby I am playing with at that time (genealogy since you didn’t ask). I also find talking on the phone difficult; the written word is my medium (some may say otherwise! Bah humbug to them!). As I get older, my friends and I are drifting geographically, if not in personality and chronology.
Friendship does change. It can evolve into something deeper or it can drift into separate pathways, occasionally crossing but never as close as when walking the same journey.
It took me a very long time before I could say “I love you” to my family (we weren’t a demonstrative family – it’s taken me a while to teach them but I started when I was around 20 and now they are completely house-trained), much longer to say it to my friends (and it still feels awkward sometimes, but I want them to know), but that doesn’t mean I did not feel it. There are so many different kinds of love, as many as there are people to love and reasons for loving.
I also know what being a friend isn’t. It isn’t mindlessly supporting someone even when you see them behaving in ways which are damaging to them and others. Being a friend means pointing out kindly (at first!) what results their behaviour is having and how it is not the best way to behave. It means an awareness of our responsibilities towards others. It means that your best friend may be a domestic abuser and it is not being a ‘good’ friend to deny that this is occurring. It means supporting them to stop being an abuser. It means recognising no-one is inherently good or bad, and having your own moral compass and principles which allow you to understand the complexities of human beings and to support and love in a way that minimises pain, as pain is not something that can be avoided in life.
Being a friends means stopping someone, or at least trying to stop them, making a huge mistake. One example is contained in this video I made with the help of my Sanford Collective theatre group friends (now sadly defunct), Stop Assault Before It Starts.
Being a friend does not mean all take and no give, but equally it does not mean all give and no take. It’s a balancing act, and one which can be complicated by myriad interchanging factors such as health, geography, changing careers, unemployment, and much more.=
It’s heart-breaking when a friendship ends, more so when it is through discovering that someone you had believed knew you as a person does something to betray that they have not understood you at all. This has happened to me twice in my life, and I still feel the pain now even though it has been many, many years. That’s when I learned how hard forgiveness can be, and what was my responsibility in that ending of a friendship.
But ultimately, I hope and desire my friends to know this:
- I do love them.
- I am very loyal to them.
- I would fight their corner, without question.
- I will support them, whatever.
- I respect them.
- I will not allow them to destroy themselves, if at all in my power to prevent it.
- I will recognise their autonomy and try not to step on their toes.
- I will not condone or ignore cruel, painful, abusive behaviour to me or anyone else.
- I believe in giving many, many chances, but there is a limit. Takes years to get there, mind.
- If there is gossip floating about, I may hear it if I cannot avoid it but as a rule will only believe information if it comes direct from the horse’s mouth. Not that I am comparing them to a horse.
- No-one is all good or all bad, me most definitely included.
- If I have to cancel a plan, it upsets me more than it will ever them.
- They are in my mind, and always in my heart.
- Again, and most importantly, I love them.
So, on that note, Merry ‘whatever winter festival floats your boat/summer festival if that’s the season you are in’ and a happy New Year (whenever that may start for you)!
*Apologies if you aren’t reading this around Christmas time. Pretend it’s like a TV repeat on ‘Dave’…
I am a big geek, the biggest. I have bigly geekiness, let me tell you. Many people tell me I have geek. This bigly geekiness led me to go see Marvel’s latest offering, Dr Strange, at the cinema as opposed to waiting until it has reached the smaller screen (worth it, the effects are incredible).
Before I went to see it, I was very aware of the controversial casting of Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” AKA “The Supreme Sorcerer”. The character in the graphic novels is a wizened old (stereotypical and quite racist depiction of an) East Asian man. The character in the film is specifically stated to be a woman of ‘celtic origin’ (and that caused controversy itself with my historian Sooterkin™ – no such place as ‘celt’ for a start…). Yay for the wimmins! Representation! This you might think would be my feminist stance.
No. Enough of the female white privilege already; the election in the United States of America has shown me more clearly than ever before the importance of the intersectionality of feminism and of white feminism acknowledging its privilege and stepped up by stepping down.
I have written about the importance of visibility before and now we have the rise of the right across the world, it is even more of a vital issue. White women were central to the election of Donald Trump with only white post graduate college-educated women voting for Hillary Clinton over The Fart® (a fact which boggles my mind, given his outspoken sexism and admitted sexual abuse).
If it was to play with gender that Ms Swinton (superb in the role, as she is in everything) was cast, then why swap out the race too? There are a LOT of Asian actors* who would have been able to play the role, and Marvel itself is no stranger to casting Asian and mixed-race Asian leads in its TV series (I’m thinking of Daisy and Mae in Marvel’s Agents of Shield). Or think even more outside the box, and cast a woman who is not of East Asian origin OR white! Indigenous US-American, for example, would open up all sorts of potentially fascinating storylines…
Representation is key to combatting the perpetuation of racist ideology. Misogynoir (the combined racist/sexist oppression suffered by Black women is on the rise, all ethnically identifying women face (dual at the very least) oppression; we need to WAKE THE F*^K UP RIGHT NOW!
Our sisters are dying, literally. When I say sisters, I mean sisters to ALL of us. We need to listen, really listen, and do what we can to fight this.
Privilege is very real, and it is now being bolstered by the ideology of the right that sees those who fight for a semblance of equality (i.e. equality of opportunity, as people are not equal in wants, needs, desires, abilities etc.) as ‘Social Justice Warriors’ (a derogatory term used by those who oppose feminism, anti-racism, anyone who fights against the prevailing prejudice within a system) who are high on a diet of ‘political correctness’ (or politeness and respect as I call it) and who are enemies to whomever is identified as ‘their own’.
I am fully aware of the opposition to the idea. I have had conversations with one male friend who has objected to the casting of more women in shows as being ‘pandering’ and ruining programmes; this before actually watching them – the assumption is that it is unnecessary and purely to meet some sort of arbitrary equality target. Maybe in part it is, but the gender of a character need not and should not affect the story especially in fantasy and sci-fi, genres where social inequalities are very often central to the storylines and which have a fine and long tradition of exploring potentialities.
I have had similar conversations with friends over the casting of people of different racial identities, disabilities etc. In every single one, and I am not exempting myself from this as I as much as anyone need to constantly address my inherent privileges, the first objection is that it is tokenism, the second that it is ‘ruining’ graphic novels adaptations to recast with different races/sexes etc., the third that there are ‘too many’ of a particular oppressed identity and it is not truly reflective.
It’s sci-fi/fantasy. Since when does it have to be ‘truly reflective’? It really isn’t and all media representation has a long way to go to be reflective anyway. (In case you are wondering, yes, I adore “Luke Cage”, “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” for what they are as well as for what they represent, but we need more!).
Even when the statistical equivalence is less than that which would reflect reality, those of privileged identities feel overtaken and pushed out, and that perceptions of the same behaviour differentiated by gender, for example, mean privilege remains the default position.
I have now reached the standpoint in my beliefs where I think it essential that we need to over-cast roles to represent an increased diversity. More actors than would be statistically equivalent to reality in a show, please! More black than white, more disabled than able-bodied, more transgender than cisgender, more ethnically diverse than whitewashed, more gay than straight, more of every oppressed group than not oppressed!
(pauses whilst the collective heads of the right and the unthinking privileged explode in utter horror)
We privileged have had way more than enough time in the spotlight. Time to sit our butts on the sidelines and let someone, some people, else shine. People of non-privileged identities, I don’t see you, but I really want to. Time for over-representation, not representation. Time for over-diversifying, not statistical reflectiveness. Affirmative action, on steroids!
Time for us privileged to get out of the way. Completely.
*I use the term ‘Actor’ because there is no reason to differentiate gender in the job of acting; the roles have genders, not the job of acting.
The Trump Card
What have you done, you poor and huddled masses?
Who sailed hopeful to the shores of your promised land.
You grew fat on the backs of immigrant oppression,
And we in our land co-founded, helped, and we profited.
But since then we thought that we had all learned.
Oh say, can you see, sweet land of liberty,
The horror of what you have allowed to become?
Did you not learn from the British concern,
When Europe broke down and we moved away,
To kill all the hope of those despair.
The star spangled banner in Trump triumph unfurls,
And smothers the land of the free and the brave,
In a wave of oppression and fall-out depression,
In God is your Trust but only the rich must
Be happy at this turn in the social hell.
I feel fear for my friends over the pond who
Are comforting the fearful they love who are scared,
That the Leader of the Free World, though self-proclaimed
Elected on grounds of bigotry and misogyny
Only the rich and the white are now safe.
© 9th November 2016
Hope will return, I am sure it will, along with the fighting spirit, because really, what other option is there?